The West Mimics Mao, Takes a Green Leap Forward

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The West Mimics Mao, Takes a Green Leap Forward


The green movement’s rush to transform the energy economy while ignoring the laws of nature and economics calls to mind China’s ruinous Great Leap Forward. By 1957, Mao Zedong had grown impatient with his country’s slow industrial development relative to the West. He sought to transform China quickly from an agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse through forced industrialization and agricultural collectivization.

Steel production was a priority of the Great Leap Forward. Mao wanted China to surpass the U.K. in steel output within 15 years. Across the country, including in the village where my father lived, people tried to contribute to this goal by building small backyard furnaces. Each village had a production quota to meet, so everyone—including children and the elderly—pitched in. Using everything they could find to keep the furnaces burning, villagers melted down farming tools and cooking pots. These efforts yielded only pig iron, which had to be decarbonized to make steel. That was a process a backyard furnace couldn’t handle. The effort and resources were wasted.

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